In my first post, I discussed two underlying reasons why pornography has such a stronghold on many youth today. In this post, my goal is to offer six practical insights so we can best help students resist the lure of pornography. These are some of the points I will be sharing at the upcoming Set Free Global Conference on pornography.
1. Talk to students about sex and pornography
This may sound like an obvious point, but I am amazed at how few adults actually broach the subject. Along with being a professor at Biola University, I teach two part-time high school Bible classes. In my 9th-10th grade class, only 2 of my 10 students had parents who had talked with them about porn. I get a similar response when I speak to teens around the country.
I will never forget a young man I met in Tennessee. His father was a pastor, and yet had never spoken to him about sex or pornography. We had a lengthy conversation, and sadly, the young man had deep regrets about his sexual past. He kept telling me how he wished his parents had simply talked with him about sex.
Conversations about sex and pornography can be difficult, but there is often much greater pain for those who avoid them.
2. Define sex and pornography
In my experience, few students actually know how to define pornography. If they can’t define it, then how do they know when they see it? Sure, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously said he couldn’t define pornography but interjected, “I know it when I see it.” While this may be true for hardcore porn, and for people with cultivated senses, we simply cannot take this for granted with students today.
Arguably, one reason there has been an increase in oral sex and anal sex is because many young people believe its not really sex. Many experiment sexually while aiming to remain “technical virgins.” There are some difficult questions we can’t avoid: Is mutal masturbation sex? Is virtual sex, sex? Do you lose your virginity if you have sex through Oculus Rift? I am not pretending these are easy questions, but we cannot abandon students to their own whims.
Simply put, I would define pornography as any medium—picture, writing, video, etc.—that is used to elicit sexual arousal.
3. Use stories to motivate and influence students
We all love stories. We remember them and retell them. While it is important to give students facts about the effects of porn, stories give students hope and permission to share their journeys.
A few years ago I was leading a mentoring group of freshman boys. During our small group meeting, one young man briefly mentioned that he had struggled with porn from ages 10-14. Since he brought it up to the group, I asked him if he was comfortable sharing more about his experience. He graciously said yes, and shared how he was hooked on porn for about four years before confessing to is parents, which started the process of healing. After hearing his story, another student from my group came to me the next day to discuss his addiction. This is one reason the Apostle John said:
“And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony…” (Revelation 12:11)
4. Appeal to common human values to help students see why pornography is wrong
Many students today do not believe porn is wrong. In fact, according to The Porn Phenomenon study, more students say it is wrong not to recycle (56%) than to look at porn (32%). How do we convince such students?
The key is to unsurface deeper reasons why porn is wrong. For instance, in my talk What’s the Big Deal with Porn?, I discuss how porn use causes people to increasingly view others as objects rather than as people to be loved. I also discuss how porn use physically changes the brain and damages relationships. These are just two examples of how we can go through the “back door” to help students see the immorality of and damage caused by porn.
5. Ask questions
If you are like me, then you may have the tendency to overreact when students seem flippant about porn. While there certainly is a time for strong reaction, I have found the best approach—whether someone is struggling with porn or willing to talk about it, but doesn’t think its wrong—is simply to ask questions rather than make statements. My goal is to truly understand what is going on in a young person’s heart and life, and to see how I can help. Even Jesus asked a ton of questions, and he certainly knew the answers! Asking the right questions helps students uncover for themselves why pornography is wrong and what they need to do about it. Here’s a few of the questions I often ask to get the ball rolling:
When did you start viewing pornography?
How often do you view it?
What kind of pornography do you view?
How does it make you feel about yourself?
How badly do you want to stop?
Have you tried to stop before?
When do you most commonly view it?
What do you think it will take to stop?
6. Counter the narrative that we need sex to survive
Recently I had my friend Christopher Yuan speak to my high school students about how the church can address homosexuality. He is the author of Out of Far Country: A gay son’s journey to God. A broken mother’s search for hope. As a celibate man, he described some of the unique challenges singles face within the church. Yet one of the most powerful truths he shared with my students—which they indicated really stuck with them—was that we don’t need sex to survive. According to the message in our culture, sex is everything. Yet as Chris pointed out, people can be fully happy, healthy, and fulfilled without sex. John the Baptist, Paul, Jeremiah, and Jesus were each single, and they lived lives of the deepest meaning.
This doesn’t make sex bad. In fact, sex is a beautiful gift from God. But despite the cultural narrative, it is not necessary for a meaningful life.
If you have a heart for the next generation, please think about joining me at the Set Free Global Conference on pornography. There have been few issues as challenging for the church as porn, and there’s never been a conference on this subject so poised to address it. See you there!
Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 15 books, and internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org